pupa Ep. 3: The Panopticon

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To an extent, every culture employs the use of shame to police its citizens and uphold public morality, but moreso in East Asian cultures. You could say that within our dreams, our greatest fears can be realized. As such, Yume finds herself lost within a sea of people in the middle of a bright and busy Tokyo intersection. This setting serves as a stark contrast to the dark, shaded park grounds in the previous two episodes. Like a dense forest, Yume could hide in the park and “play,” i.e. manifest her latent sexual desires through cannibalism. If she were to transform into a “monster” here, however, i.e. in the middle of a bright and busy Tokyo intersection, the consequences would be disasterous.

Even so, Yume struggles to keep her feelings and desires buried deep within her: “The body craves it… It’s disgusting.” We suddenly see the image of her as a monster superimposed upon the image of her as a vulnerable shoujo. When the image of the monster finally fades away, a thick vein begins to pulsate on one of her cheeks. Essentially, Yume is about to explode; after all, puberty and the changes that come as a result of it are inevitable. How much longer can she deny herself and remain artificially as a virginal shoujo that needs her brother’s protection? As I have said above, she is lost amongst a sea of people, and her own sexual desires are fighting to escape her discipline and control. So, like the fish that she sees on the giant TV screen overhead, she feels gutted. Yes, when she looks upon the giant TV screen, I believe she is actually observing herself. The giant TV screen then serves as just one element of a modern Panopticon.

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The Panopticon was a building designed by Jeremy Bentham to facilitate in both the observation and the discipline of prison inmates. Social thinker Michel Foucault latched upon this idea of observation and discipline being intrinsically linked. The Panopticon is effective because it removes the prisoners from the dark dungeons, opting to place them within the light instead. All of the prisoners’ potential transgressions can therefore no longer be hidden from sight. As such, the fear of constant surveillance becomes another instrument of state-imposed discipline. You can never act out because you can never know when you’re being watched. As I have suggested, East Asian cultures are especially more shame-based than most other modern societies, especially with regards to female sexuality. A cursory glance at anime alone will readily reveal to its audience that a young girl’s purity is highly valued. Nourin, for instance, is just one in many shows that continually advance the notion that girls should be ashamed and afraid to exhibit any sort of individual sexuality:

Kousaku: Kinoshita-san…?
Yukatan: Huh?
Kousaku: Isn’t it embarrassing to show me your laundry?
Yukatan: Why?
Kousaku: Because I’m a man.

To bring things back to pupa, Yume’s greatest fears are realized in her dream sequence because if she loses control over her own latent sexual desires, she will manifest into a monster before an entire sea of people in the middle of a bright and busy Tokyo intersection. Not only that, she feels as though she’s a gutted fish; her feelings and desires are no longer hers but since they are being forcefully removed by the hands of an unknown man. The unknown man represents another element of the modern Panopticon. Because she is afraid of being ashamed — because she has to discipline herself — she is rejecting her own wants and desires. Nevertheless, this is not a natural rejection. She is not rejecting her sexuality because she inherently hates it. Rather, the rejection is born from a deeply-rooted sense of guilt. The disembodied hands serve as a metaphor of a faceless state policing a young woman’s sexuality. In other words, Yume finds herself lost within a modern Panopticon. Like a prisoner, she has no place to act out. She must forcefully expel her transgressive inclinations, i.e. gutted, or face alienation and ostracization from the sea of people around her. Yume can’t “hide in the bushes;” she can’t “play” in the park. Yume cannot transform here; she cannot be herself. Yume has to police and discipline herself lest her shame comes to light.

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Suddenly, the giant TV screen cuts to a mysterious man who ominously bellows, “Even you… would abandon your sister if you were backed into a corner.” Although at first glance, it would seem as though the man is addressing Utsutsu, this is, again, Yume’s dream. What is her greatest fear? Yes, she is ashamed to be seen as a sexual creature — in her eyes, a sexual monster — and we’ve already discussed how the busy Tokyo intersection reflects this fear. Her greatest fear, however, is the fear of being alienated from her own brother. If she becomes consumed by sexual love, will she also lose familial love as a result? Will her own brother abandon her because she is no longer a pure, virginal imouto? So when the TV screen cuts to the mysterious man and broke the fourth wall, so to speak, he represents the threat of punishment: do this and you will suffer.

So Yume cries. She desperately wishes that it was all a dream, and that she’ll wake up and find herself next to Utsutsu. She even briefly falls into a dream-within-a-dream whereupon she meets that neglected and abused teddy bear once again. As with previous episodes, the teddy bear continues to function as a reflection of Yume’s alter ego: “You know the truth, Yume-chan. You’ll kill onii-chan and–” Yume interrupts the teddy bear, i.e. herself, by slapping it away. You can see this as Yume not only continuing to reject herself, but resorting to physical abuse — the same abuse she had learned from her father — as a form of discipline. When Yume finds herself back in the original dream, she cannot help but fall to her knees as though she’s in prayer, trying to desperately wish both her sins and propensity to sin away. She is only “saved” when Utsutsu appears out of nowhere to embrace her from behind.

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Already, we can see incestuous overtones begin to develop. I’ve already suggested in previous posts the confusing nature of Yume’s current existence. She exists in a liminal state between a virginal girl and an independent woman. Her sexual desires distances her from the former, but her status as a vulnerable, dependent imouto prevents her from becoming the latter. As such, it is likely that her feelings also exist within a liminal state. How does one transition from familial love to sexual love? Because of the way the siblings depend solely upon each other, can these two notions of love become confused and interchangeable? Might the lines become blurred? After all, both Yume and Utsutsu lost their parents when they were still just children. As such, they’ve both had to fulfill roles they weren’t likely emotionally equipped to handle, i.e. look out for each other as a parent should.

We see this blurring of the lines play out in reality. We return to the park and it’s important to see the contrasting elements that follow. First, we see mothers and children playing around a swing set. Then, we see a shady-looking man smoking and drinking alcohol on a park bench, his face concealed by a baseball cap. Then finally, we see an “Off Limits” sign hanging askew from a gate that might as well represent a set of prison bars. In the background, you hear grunting and panting from Utsutsu, but is it from pain or pleasure? Speaking of blurred lines, the division between pain and pleasure is a fine one, a line that is often and very easily overstepped (see: BDSM). We then enter the men’s restroom, where you can see blood on the floor and a single red butterfly fluttering about. Blood here probably represents life to serve as a contrast to the red butterfly, which I’ve learned from another blog post that the red butterfly often represents death in East Asian stories. The scene’s color scheme is, I believe, also important. It’s like how during a storm, the rainwater brings out the oil and grime previously hidden in the streets. When you look down at the water, the streak of oil appears as a somewhat rainbow-like mixture of colors. The look of the restroom reminds me of this; it’s dirty and it’s grimy.

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The most important element of the scene, however, is obviously our pair of siblings. Yume’s semi-straddling Utsutsu, so again, the line between pain and pleasure is ambiguous. Is she eating him or are they engaged in a sexual act? She licks her lips then returns to his flesh with her teeth bared, but it’s not unusual for lovers to playfully bite one another during sex either. Yume breathlessly mutters, “I’m sorry, onii-chan,” to which Utsutsu replies, “It’s okay, Yume. I’m just like a monster now, too.” Two thoughts come to mind. In last week’s post, I’ve previously suggested that violence begets violence, and being an abused victim, Yume is exhibiting signs of abuse. By hurting her own brother, Yume is perhaps resembling the siblings’ father. By not seeking help, however, you could argue that Utsutsu is enabling Yume the very same way that their mother enabled their father long enough for the children to suffer from abuse. So this is one way to interpret Utsutsu’s words. On the other hand, if we interpret Yume’s transformation as a morbid coming-of-age story of a girl’s blooming sexuality, then Utsutsu is becoming a monster too because he is now aware of his own sexual desires. But what normally happens when two siblings become adults? Generally, you each go out and date other people until you each find a person to commit to and form your own family.

Because of the hardships they’ve previously been through, however, neither Utsutsu nor Yume are ready to abandon each other. Neither of them are equipped to form their own healthy families. They continue to rely upon each other, and as such, the line between familial love and sexual love becomes blurred. This contrast is highlighted by the existence of the park itself. It is simultaneously a place for mothers to bring their children to play, and a place for taboo sexual acts to be carried out within the “dungeons” of the men’s restroom. We’ve all heard of clandestine sexual acts occurring in public restrooms — usually at parks or bars. What we saw earlier in the episode was how Utsutsu embraced Yume in her dream and told her not to worry. Essentially, his dream self tried to save her from the Panopticon and this is why we now see them hidden away within a dark “dungeon” away from the public eye. Even so, you cannot escape the modern Panopticon, and this is why we see Maria’s “cat” talking our oblivious siblings. The anime zooms into the cat’s face, and one of its eyes twitches in a way that would suggest that the cat is really a hidden camera.

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In other words, you cannot escape the sight of the modern Panopticon.


8 Replies to “pupa Ep. 3: The Panopticon”

  1. Firstly let me say that once again I’m glad this “show” is delivering in giving us legitimate topics to delve into and you taking the time to really sink into it is good stuff.

    Having read to a certain early point in the manga out of curiosity (and dropped it like a brick over other reasons) I can say that you’ve hit everything on the head here, mate. Everything except the “mysterious talking man” and dream thing. See, because of the rush job, you have no idea why this scenario is playing out like it is. However, I won’t tell you exactly what it was initially in the manga since, maybe also because of the rush, they decided to make this scene appear like a total dream sequence, and talking extensively about the manga would ruin that effect.
    _I will say, though, that the man talking to Utsutsu is actually their father. Not spoiling speculation there since I believe you got to see a glimpse of their glasses-wearing pops in the first or second episode. He actually is talking to Utsutsu in that line, comparing him to himself and that he’ll abandon Yume like he abandoned his wife. But why it’s HERE is a good question…

    The Panopticon seems to be a concept that’s gaining a lot of attention lately, too. It’s the basis for a world in the upcoming “Freedom Wars” Vita title and I’m positive someone’s mentioned it here already. Camera-cat eye or no, you nailed the “panopticon” world idea since, even in the comic, the whole of Japan is being monitored, and mainly by Ms. Stitched-Cat McFuneral Wear.

    You’ll find out more in the next episode as to what exactly Utsutsu means, but your idea of “Yume is acting like the father, Utsutsu is acting like the mother” is literally what I thought as well. While the idea of hereditary violence is just…no…it DOES makes sense that these two would fall into those roles of abuser/abused if one of them takes on a dominating role. It’s logical simply because of the abuse they’ve endured and how much they severely rely on one another.
    Utsutsu doesn’t want to abandon Yume, so he will endure being eaten alive by her. Talk about a blatant metaphor!

    All that said, even as I read the manga I still wondered how something like Berserk or Evangelion could get movies and such while Pupa is snipped to 4min episodes. I understand why now. Perhaps it’s because, as dark and horrible as those stories get, neither of them have a plot that hits such a gruesomely sore spot in society.
    I truly think it’s because of the subject matter: A story of abuse victims taking on a semi-incestuous relationship via cannibalism metaphors. The (gore)imagery can be censored or altered to fit the standards (been done plenty of times before), but the plot can’t. Couple that with how Domestic Violence is apparently such a taboo topic in Japan and you’ve got yourself the truth behind Pupa’s limited run time.
    …Sorry if you figured that, mate. Just a strange revelation I had. heh

    1. I’ll reply to the rest of your comments when I have more time, but I really have to re-iterate that regardless of what happened in the manga, I’m only focused on the adaptation. As far as I’m concerned, how the anime portrays the story is how I’ll analyze it. Every adaptation is its own story within a story. Things might differ from the manga, but that’s fine. I’m not concerned with what really happened “canonically” (was it a dream or not? who was the man really addressing?) as opposed to what’s happening right in front of me. Studio Deen made conscious decisions to cut and piece the story in a certain way, and I’m analyzing their results as a standalone product.

        1. C’mon now, don’t mistake an assertion on my end as ruffled feathers. This ain’t Reddit or whatever. No one should be getting mad over anime.

  2. Also I’d like to add that, yeah it’s being done via cannibalism, but if you altered and dimmed the gore (a lot) you’d have an imouto nibbling or sucking the blood of her older brother.
    How is this any more gross than all the pseudo-incest in contemporary anime?
    You know the typical lines
    “Man, if I had a cute sister like you do…”
    “My sister is so cute! She’s too cute!!”
    “M-My/H-His/H-Her imouto’s panties!”
    ALL the anime, especially romantic comedies, that promote this idea of the “cute imouto that’s all mine!”.

    Watamote did an amazing job at jabbing at this rising subculture by having Tomoko occasionally suggest something creepy to her brother for him to groan at. Remember when she thought her late night romps with her porn VN made her beautiful and suspected her brother was staring at her because he was attracted to her (and not that she was just greasy looking)? Funny moment and blatant mockery of this kind of thing.

    Basically what I’m saying is that if you toned down the gore the incestuous overtones would be no worse than the kind of stuff that’s played up in other shows that have such massive popularity. Even SAO had the not-elf that was “hot for cousin” if I recall correctly. Honestly I’d think Pupa (to an extent) be better, since it’s showing incest for what it is and also introducing an actual potential cause for the act (from what I’ve heard, certain cases of incest have come about exactly because of parental abuse/negligence and over reliance on the sibling).

    1. Basically what I’m saying is that if you toned down the gore

      Well that goes without saying for a country like Japan. Japan has a incredibly low crime rate for a first world nation. When terrible things do happen like a shooting or that sarin gas attack, these events really do shock the entire nation. For me, it sounds horrible but a school shooting is something I’ve gotten used to over the years as an American. I’ve become desensitized to it in a way, partly due to stuff like Columbine and Sandy Hook and also partly due to how American visual media is more open about wanton violence over sex. Plus, we don’t really blame movies or TV shows here. Video games make for a much easier target to scapegoat. For Japan, I think it’s one thing if you have clear monsters in alternate universes committing the violence like in Berserk or Attack On Titan. But when it’s between two children in a modern day setting, you’ll obviously get into some trouble. Nobody wants to be blamed for the next Otaku Murderer.

      1. Ha Man, I never heard of this until now. I see where you’re coming from with the “fantasy villains vs realistic scenarios” there. Even shows like Psycho Pass and Paranoia Agent had their own fantasy elements/moments that firmly(kinda) divided the line. I wonder how something like Perfect Blue would be handled if it was made today…

        But then I don’t understand why BTOOM!! gets to go whole hog, you know? That show has copious amounts of mostly realistic violence and sexual violence involving teens and adults alike, yet when we get Pupa we get 4min clips. Is it just the gore, or is it the gore AND the incestuous overtones, and if it’s the latter then I have to ask again why those overtones are offensive here but celebrated in moe~moe “romantic comedies”? I just don’t get it. Aside from BTOOM!! being a “game of death” there was way more offensive content in that show than Pupa, which actually handles its potentially offensive content with tact and metaphorical symbolism.

        I’m surprised by how much stuff you bring up in reviews and replies, though, mate. Old cases, research papers, Psyche terminology, etc. It’s impressive. Shame you don’t get paid for this

        1. I wonder how something like Perfect Blue would be handled if it was made today…

          I think movies are a whole different story altogether. There are much worse than Perfect Blue out there. Like the Miike films. Granted, they’re not anime but I don’t think anyone actually thought Perfect Blue was for kids.

          Was BTOOOM that brutal? I don’t remember it being that gruesome to watch, honestly. But we’re also forgetting one thing: money. Even if any studio could’ve adapted pupa to its fullest potential, would it have made a lot of money? Combine the subject matter with its low marketability and you don’t exactly have a recipe for success. Evangelion could push mechas or figmas, especially since Rei and Asuka are rather moe for their time. Even something like BTOOOM has a video game tie-in, at least.

          Shame you don’t get paid for this

          I sort of do. Just not very much.

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